I have reached another milestone in training – I am ready for my first flight! I should be flying on Tuesday or Wednesday, and while on paper I am “prepared,” I feel far too nervous and excited to fly than is probably wise or safe. But that is what instructors are for, right? I have to brag a bit – the aircraft we will be flying in is the Lockheed (Beechcraft) T-6A Texan II: a single-engine, turboprop, mono-wing, high-performance aerobatic trainer. What that means is that my aircraft was designed train pilots in aerobatic maneuvering…so part of our training will include things like loops, aileron rolls, split-s’s, wingovers, and all sorts of sexy moves from WWII dogfighting and Top Gun (though no 4-G inverted dives with a MiG). It has a glass cockpit, which means the gauges aren’t actually “gauges” per se, as in dials with needles that indicate information. They are glass computer displays that project an image of a gauge like your computer monitor. This means that some system is actually processing the information shown on the gauges and then projecting it to the pilot in an easier-to-read format – the assumption being that said system is more accurate than the conventional gauges were in the first place. The real advantage is that all-important displays (like aircraft attitude) won’t “tumble” or get out of alignment…ever (even during dynamic manoevering!). It does make me kind of nervous, though, that the old gauges were prone to doing that in the first place! But far and away the coolest thing about the T-6A is that it is equipped with a zero-zero ejection seat, so the aircrew can get out in a hurry if something goes drastically wrong. “Zero-zero” means that even sitting on the tarmac, at zero knots airspeed and zero feet off the deck, this seat can still save my life, by firing me up high enough with its rocket motor (330 ft) that my parachute can safely inflate and land me on the deck.
But getting here has occupied much of my time these past few weeks. Ground school was much different from API, because it is merely an introduction to the materials we are requred to study, it isn’t actually a “lecture” course. They call it “big boy school” – you are told what to know, then tested, but the material itself isn’t really taught. You must learn it by yourself. First we were tested on weather knowledge, then T-6A systems (hydraulics, propulsion, electronics, avionics), and finally the actual, word-of-the-most-high-naval-aviation-authorites-sanctioned, T-6A operations manual. That was five tests in three weeks.
After that we had a week of simulator events, where you get in a flight simulator and you operate the aircraft from the cockpit. These events are treated like actual flights, and you are being graded each time on how much material you know about the aircraft and how to operate it (there are certain items that we focus on specifically in each event). For example, the first event is just to see if you are familiar enough with the many pages of checklists and the necessary radio calls to operate the aircraft safely. The second event tests all that again, but adds some emergencies in – a fire warning on the ground, a fire warning in flight, an engine failure in flight, and requires you to be familiar with the emergency landing procedure. There were only three of these events, but with all the information you have to know for each one, each one is like studying for a final. But they are fun – I got to “eject” from one simulation, and I got to “fly” in all three, which dispite the lack of visual graphics outside the cockpit, was pretty cool.
Today I had my first period of instruction in the actual aircraft. It was an introduction – showing me how to preflight the plane itself, how to prepare for an actual flight (getting weather and field updates), and how to strap in, get in and get out the aircraft itself. It was a long day, but at least I know that I am about to start flying – which is why I’m down here for in the first place.
Unfortunately, however, all this work means I have lost some free time. I go the beach rarely now, though the temperature has climbed into the high 90s and 100s several times. And except for the rare concert or something I don’t get away from my texts much. But since Memorial Day weekend is coming up, I am hoping for a relaxing three day weekend…and yes, more studying.